Thursday, June 8, 2017
Swingadelic's Mercerville on CD
As I mentioned the other day, I've received three new jazz releases from Zoho Records, which is located right here in New York State. I reviewed Greg Skaff's Soulmation last week, and found it to be tough, rock-oriented instrumental jazz that had plenty of guts and bite. The next day I reviewed Chris Washburne's Rags and Roots, a simply beautiful tribute to ragtime that blends this distinctly American music genre with other jazz forms.
The third CD from Zoho, Swingadelic's Mercerville, isn't quite as original or adventurous as those other two releases. To put it succinctly, this is a big band ensemble playing standards in a straightforward way, and for quite a few people this is perfectly wonderful. The theme of the album is Johnny Mercer, who shares a birthday with Swingadelic's pianist and vocalist John Bauers. Bauers has spent a lifetime playing Mercer songs, and in recent years he's been adding layers of polish to a Mercer tribute show that's been making the rounds in New York City. With vocalist Vanessa Parea and Swingadelic's leader, bassist Dave Post, Bauers has finally delivered on this labor of love.
As for Swingadelic, they have plenty of experience with these types of projects--their first two albums are titled The Other Duke and Toussaintville. No less than sixteen musicians participated on these twelve tracks, and the result is highly professional and imbued with an old-fashioned sense of pure fun. Bauers' vocals remind me a little of Michael Buble, and his familiarity with classic Mercer songs such as "Too Marvelous for Words," "Accentuate the Positive" and "Moon River" provides an obvious sense that he truly loves these songs and he loves singing them for audiences.
He's also not afraid to tackle some of Mercer's lighter and more whimsical classics such as "Jeepers Creepers" and "Goody Goody" (perhaps my least favorite song in the Great American Songbook, even when Julie London does it--and I love Julie London). Again, this adds to the sense that the performers are truly enjoying themselves on the stage, and I'm sure that audiences who have seen the show around the city went home with huge grins.
So what's the problem? None, really. As with the other two Zoho releases, the sound quality is spectacular and the level of the performances approach perfection. When I listen to something like Mercerville, however, I want the performers and arrangers to take a few more chances with the material. Take Pink Martini, for example, another contemporary big band that always adds something mysterious and exotic to the mix. There's a lushness to the delivery that is, quite honestly, mesmerizing. They take chances that usually pay off.
But that's just me. There are plenty of fans of big band and Johnny Mercer who will go over the moon with this type of music. Who am I to stand in their way?